Early Childhood STEM Enrichment Program: Week 1

Week 1: Marshmallow Towers

Objective: Students will work independently to build the tallest free standing structure they can from the provided materials.

This was the first meeting of my K-2 students for the before school enrichment program that I am piloting. Each week the students will complete a STEM activity based around the Arizona College and Career Readiness Standards (Common Core) for the grade levels. As the students complete the different activities they will complete a feedback or independent worksheet for their working portfolio. I also tied in elements of the Gifted Curriculum unit: "Thinking Like a Disciplinarian" in thinking like an Engineer. The 16 week program will go as follows:

Here are the activities for January:

We began the lesson with a PowerPoint presentation that discussed the following information:
  • What is a Civil Engineer?
  • 2D and 3D shapes we recognize in the towers.
  • Samples of current towers/structures from around the world.
  • Similarities in shape and design between those structures.
  • Discussion of real world materials used by Civil Engineers.
  • Elements or outside factors that affect the outcome of a design.
  • Directions and materials for the activity (similar to the page below for the portfolio.



Each student has a binder with 16 dividers, one for each week of the program. They get a visual instruction page, depicting which materials they will be using, as well as an activity page to record their work or feedback.

Here are some photos of the towers during construction. The students that completed the activity were given unifix cubes (non-standard units of measurement) and rulers to measure the height of their structure, depending if they were a 1st grade student or a 2nd grade student.

Here are some student samples of designs and feedback.

After the time was up, the students had to let go of their structures and see what happened. Only 4 out of the 8 structures were free standing and by the end of class one of those had collapsed. The students then got to walk around and look at the designs of the standing structures. We had some great discussions about what shapes were involved, as well as a self-assessment on how we thought we did and what changes we could try if we did this again. Some of the responses were:

"We needed more than one person to help build."
"We could have stronger materials."
"We should be able to choose between mini and large marshmallows."
"I didn't like the time limit, it was too short."

To summarize I shared a video I found on You Tube comparing a triangle structure and square structure (made from Legos and K-Nex) during a simulated slow motion earthquake. It was a great visual representation of comparing the two shapes and their purpose in design of a building. 
The video is below but feel free to check it out on You Tube as well.


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